I’m one of the few people who remembers the Inkling, a product that Wacom vehemently wishes to erase from our collective memories…
As harsh as that statement sounds, their previous foray was paved with good intentions but never quite panning out. Attempting to be the jack of all notetaking and artistic digitizers — only ending up as a master of none. By that distinction, the Bamboo Spark is a proper marriage between the feel of pen and paper with instantaneous convenience; an unconventional hybrid for visual brainstorming.
That’s actually not a knock considering how good the Bamboo Spark portrays itself. The appearance is handsome and nonchalant, done in a charcoal gray profile with contrasting materials and a power button (I/O) on the side. Release the band strap to open it up and you’re treated to an equally thoughtful setup that firmly holds a standard 8×5-inch (A5) notepad on one side and sleeve for a portable device on the other, along with a ‘page’ button and proprietary ballpoint pen that corresponds with an embedded Electro-Magnetic Resonance (EMR) board. Appropriate for any studio, coffee house, or conference room.
The package can be had in three separate versions that properly fits a 9-inch touchscreen tablet, iPad Air 2 (CDS600C), or pocket-sized device (CDS600G). All include a starter notepad good for about 30 pages, Micro-USB cable, and two complementary ink cartridges (replacement packs of three will cost $9.99).
The device communicates via Bluetooth by smartphone or tablet, and Wacom’s own Bamboo Spark app available on both Android and iOS. You’ll technically be drawing everything within the mobile app with each line recorded internally and undo individual strokes that aren’t to your liking. There’s also the ability to replay pages or export particular frames, supporting formats in text, jpeg, pdf, and Wacom’s own WILL ecosystem. All of which is pretty cool considering the case is able to sync and store up to 100 transmitted pages at one time.
Compared to the Inkling, nearly everything about the Spark is smarter than its predecessor. The pen is distinctively sized like a graphite pencil and suitable for the task of “ah-ha!” moments or moderate notetaking, with enough grip and weight that’s unsurprisingly similar to the Intuos Creative Stylus. Battery life is another high mark for the folio and will last a few weeks off of a single charge when lightly used, or conking out after a three-day doodling marathon; whichever one comes first.
Tracking is generally precise, capturing at least 90% accuracy of marks placed directly on whatever paper you choose. However, perfection isn’t guaranteed elsewhere as abrupt shifts and unintentional shocks can bump the pad and throwing your digital copy of said drawing or writing off its mark. Fortunately, the effect isn’t nearly as agonizing or consistent because the folio clutches the pad much better instead of requiring the artist to have a delicate touch. And some of the off-axis annoyances can be alleviated with a single paper clip secured to the pad and folio.
One minor issue is the app’s insistence on using the Wacom Cloud for device syncing and online storage. Much of this can be ignored but unless you want to export your sketches into a text, and even then, it’s not completely necessary when you can already export to Google Drive, Evernote, or Dropbox. It’s yet another service to keep track of, with the upside being a free account and 5GB of dedicated space.
But it does feel like the Bamboo Spark is catering towards a different type of clientele. Someone more mature, the type who works efficiently in visualization among corporate pow-wows and business flowcharts. But that’s probably the point of a device like this anyways, tackling the job better than the prior Inkling ever could — feasible as an artist tool but better refined for jotting down personal annotations.